Friday, July 12, 2019

Epictetus Discourses 4.4 - To those who have set their hearts on living at peace

You are travelling during the summer, on vacation.  After a long day of travel, you arrive at the hotel, check-in and then take your luggage to the room.  Immediately you love the room.  It's clean and cool; the beds are made and the window shows a great view to the beach.  Your thoughts and desires drift towards, "wow, wouldn't it be nice to wake up in this room, to this view every day!"  But then another thought wrings you back into reality; "Well, we will only be here a week, so I'll enjoy it while I can, and we check-out at the end of the week, I'll do so with gratitude and good memories in my heart."

It is this attitude of not wanting to hold on - this reserve clause of acceptance - that we need to embrace with regard to everything that is outside the sphere of our control.  And not only can this be applied to things that we desire, but it can and ought to be applied to things we may want to avoid.  And in this way, we can keep a constant, steady attitude in life.

"Remember that it is not only desire for office and wealth that debases men and makes them subservient to others, but also desire for quiet, and leisure, and travel, and learning ... what difference does it make, then, whether you set your desire on becoming a senator, or on not becoming one?" (v. 1-2, p. 239)  "Someone else is afraid that he won't gain office, while you're afraid that you will.  In no way should you be afraid, man!" (v. 19, p. 241)

"Nothing characterizes happiness better than the fact that it isn't subject to interruption or obstruction." (v. 6, p. 239)

No matter what happens, you should be steady; and even content with events.  "If this is what God pleases, so be it!" (v. 21, p. 241).  Your task is to "be happy, and be free from hindrance and obstruction." (v. 22, p. 241)

And, "if you attach value to anything at all that lies outside the sphere of choice, you've destroyed your choice.  Not only is [the appointment to] office outside that sphere, but also freedom from office; and not only want of leisure, but also leisure itself." (v. 23, p. 242)

If you are thrust into the commotion of every day life, it is in your power to change your attitude about the situation.  You can "think of it as a festival" if you wish, but "don't be irritable, don't be oversensitive about what comes to pass." (v. 24-25, p. 242).

Or, "if things turn out in such a way that you find yourself living alone, or with few companions, call that peace and quiet, and make use of those circumstances as you ought; converse with yourself, work on your impressions, perfect your preconceptions.  But if you get caught in a crowd, call it the games, call it a public gathering, call it a festival and join in the festival with everyone else." (v. 26, p. 242)

What is in your power?  The "ability to deal with impressions." (v. 28, p. 242)

"Haven't you heard it repeatedly stated that you must completely eradicate desire, and direct your aversion solely towards things that lie within the sphere of choice, and that you must give up everything, your body, possessions, reputation, and books or commotion, and office or freedom from office?  For if you turn aside from this course, you've become a slave, you're subject to others, you're liable to hindrance and constraint, you're entirely in the power of others.  No, you should keep the saying of Cleanthes at hand, 'Guide me, O Zeus, and thou, O Destiny'.  Is it your wish that I should go to Rome?  To Rome I go.  To Gyara?  Then to Gyara.  To Athens?  Then to Athens.  Into prison?  Then into prison." (v. 33, p. 243)

But who is Zeus, God and Destiny?  What if there is some person who claims they know the will of Zeus or God and they are telling me what to do?  Should I do so without thought?  I've made a note in my book on page 243.  "I'm ok with this if the 'divinity within me' is the part of the God who is directing the Universe and Destiny.  I don't want another man speaking for God, to me."  And to be clear, I believe there is a part of God that resides in me - the divinity within.  Marcus Aurelius references this several times in Meditations Book 2.13, 2.17, 3.4, 3.7, 3.15-16, 5.10, 12.1.  Practically speaking, this is hard work - trying to understand what God wants you specifically to do in this world.  Some might call it a personal calling.  Some might say that we were fated to do something.  Being true to this is what I think of as 'the divinity within.'  It is 'the god particle' if you have read God's Debris.

"There is one path alone that leads to happiness - and keep this thought at hand morning, noon and night - it is to renounce any claim to anything that lies outside the sphere of choice, to regard nothing as being your own, to surrender everything to deity, to fortune, to consign the administration of everything to those whom Zeus himself has appointed to carry out that task, and to devote yourself to one thing alone, that which is your own, that which is free from all hindrance." (v. 39, p. 244)

Live your life - go about what you think you should be doing.  But don't set your heart on things that are outside your control.  Go to school, get a job, marry, raise a family, go to work and contribute to society, but don't ever lose sight of the fact that all that you gain (health, wealth, fame, etc) can be lost and that if you lose it, you should view it as leaving a hotel room with a nice view.  Furthermore, events will conspire to "call you" to do something.  You may be called to lead an effort, or project at work or for the government or for your family.  You can choose to refuse, but you must look inside your heart - to the divinity within - to see what God has to say about it.  At some point, we have to act and not act.  We can't simply just drift in life aimlessly - or have others tell us what to do or not do.  So act!  Understand what the divinity within you says, find your unique calling and don't hold onto desires so harshly and don't avoid pain and discomfort at all costs.

The happy and industrious person "refers all his efforts to his own ruling centre, as he strives to bring it into accord with nature and to keep it so." (v. 43, p. 244)

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